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New manufacturing community site gets a do-over

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Manufacturing-Executive.com is an online community for the global manufacturing industry created by Thomas Publishing's Managing Automation Media. The pay site—membership starts at $249 per year—debuted in May. But soon after launching the site, Publisher Heather Holst-Knudsen knew it wasn't right. So she started over and relaunched the site five months later. In a Digital Directions exclusive, Holst-Knudsen shares what she learned during what she wryly called her $200,000 MBA in technology implementation.

Digital Directions: What technologies did you choose for the first site?

Heather Holst-Knudsen: Being a publisher, not having all this technology experience, we went out and investigated some solutions that were recommended to us. One of these was called Socialtext, which was the platform to enable the community, member profiles, sharing, social networking, etc. The second platform, called Spigit, was for social collaboration. I relied on a director of website development I have since terminated.

DD: What went wrong?

Holst-Knudsen: One major mistake was investing in two technologies. Trying to get two platforms to talk to one another is a very complicated and expensive process. We also had to have a third technology, our Ektron content management system, feeding into the site. In the end, the usability was awful, the reporting was next to impossible and the design was a nightmare.

Another complexity involved having multiple levels of access that involved different areas of the site—free anonymous, free with registration and paid registered—and an e-commerce capability to collect the money. So we built our own e-commerce capability. Then, to make a long story short, we found out we could not move forward with Socialtext because it was built as a collaboration tool to be used within an enterprise, not an outward-facing social networking tool. That mistake probably cost us around $200,000.

DD: So, you decided to start over. What was the process?

Holst-Knudsen: We organized a software evaluation process based on everything we knew we wanted and put together an RFP. We evaluated four solutions, Lithium Technologies, Jive Software, Socialtext and Spigit, against the very detailed technology requirements we gathered.

We ended up selecting Jive because of the price, for one, but, more important, 80% of what we wanted in terms of functionality was already packaged within the Jive solution. We also bought the social analytics tool that goes with the platform. The only thing Jive didn't have, and which no one else we evaluated had, was the e-commerce platform; so we built that. Another big thing for us is their Ideation module, or crowd-sourcing tool.

DD: Why is crowd-sourcing such an important function?

Holst-Knudsen: Part of our marketing plan to get membership is to host four global contests annually on key topics in manufacturing. You can't participate unless you're a member. Each quarter, we're going to give a monetary prize of $1,000 to the person whose solution gets scored highest by the community.

DD: Is Jive open-source or do you pay a license fee?

Holst-Knudsen: It's an annual licensing fee plus whatever services we choose to use. It's not cheap, but it's not bad compared to what we spent on the first go-round.

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